Country Thunder fest ready to rock Calgary with Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw and more

 

MIKE BELL, CALGARY HERALD

Calgary’s a country city. And it was time it had a city country festival.

That’s part of the thinking behind the new three-day summer festival Country Thunder, which will make some noise Aug. 19-21 with its inaugural event at Prairie Winds Park in the city’s northeast.

Headliners for the weekend include Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw and Big & Rich, with other acts such as Chris Young, Dustin Lynch, Chad Brownlee, Jess Moskaluke, Courtney Cole, Calgary’s Autumn Hill and local boy Bobby Wills helping to fill out the two stages. More are still to be announced.

“Country Thunder has wanted to come to Canada, and Calgary is the first and most obvious choice,” says Gerry Krochak, the locally based general manager of Country Thunder Alberta.

“This is one of the great country music cities in the world. To do a three-day festival, a city festival, in the city, was something that was important. And we’re happy to be coming to Canada.”

The Country Thunder brand is an incredibly well-known and respected one south of the border, with annual festivals in Florence, Arizona and Twin Lakes, Wisconsin that draw tens of thousands of fans every year. In fact, the Wisconsin event earned the Academy of Country Music Award for Festival of the Year in 2015, and next year’s Arizona fest has already sold-out all 27,500 of its passes without the lineup even having been announced.

“This recognition is well-deserved,” Krochak says, “and we want to bring that to Alberta.”

Of course, organizers understand that they’re entering a fairly crowded market, with all of the other summer festivals in the city, and especially the other country music events that service the area such as Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose and Country Thunder’s sister festival Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan and, naturally the Stampede, which takes place a month before.

But Krochak things the timing of the event as well as the location make it not only able to compete but thrive.

“We want to be seen as not competition to the Stampede, but a compliment to the Stampede — keep the party going, the last big country blow-up of the summer,” he says. “I think with the lineup that’s been assembled and the fact that it’s a city festival as opposed to a camping thing, that’s what sets it apart.”

As, he thinks, does all of the lessons learned at the other more established Country Thunder events, including the staging of the concerts, which for the local one Krochak claims will boast the largest outdoor production for any event in the province next year. And then there are all of the onsite amenities that will make the three days at Prairie Winds Park a comfortable festival experience.

“All of those details that go a step above, whether its washroom services, food and beverage services, or really fair pricing,” he says.

As for ticket pricing, a limited number of three-day passes are on sale now for the introductory price of $130. They can be purchased online at countrythunder.com or this Thursday night at Cowboys, as they hold a kick-off party and concert featuring Bobby Wills and Williams and Ree.

The remainder of the tickets will be sold at increasing price points — including special VIP passes — as the weekend gets closer and the summer of 2016 is in full swing.

Actually, that in itself, Krochak thinks, makes next year the perfect time for Country Thunder to drop and become part of the community, even partnering with the Calgary South Rotary Club, which is an important charitable organization in the city.

“Mayor Nenshi has proclaimed 2016 the Year of Music in Calgary,” Krochak says, pointing to other happenings next year such as the Junos coming to town and the opening of Studio Bell.

“We hope our event will fit in … A brand new festival that people in southern Alberta and hopefully the whole province will call their own.”

Country Thunder Alberta takes place Aug. 19-21, 2016 at Prairie Winds Park in Calgary. The kick-off party and concert takes place Thursday night at Cowboys. For more information and to purchase tickets go to countrythunder.com.

mbell@calgaryherald.com

Twitter.com/mrbell_23